Before the Tour rolls into Paris, one of women cycling's highest-profile races also takes place on the Champs Elysées. It is only two years old but the benefits of La Course have already been felt much further afield. Created to act as a showcase event for women’s cycling, La Course feeds off the back of the publicity the Tour's arrival in Paris generates.
The last multi-stage women’s Tour de France was run in 2009, after which it was axed due to a lack of sponsorship. It was only four days long by then, down from its heyday of 15 stages when it began in 1984. Such is the revival of interest now that the finances could start to roll in again.
Other events such as the women’s Fleche Wallonne or Tour of Flanders, held on the day of the men’s race, have done the same and, given that La Course is arguably women’s cycling’s highest-profile event outside the Olympics and World Championships, the strategy is again working.
This year’s clearest example of how existing parallel events can create a domino effect is in the men’s Tour of Spain. For the first time organisers, Unipublic, will hold an identical women’s event in Madrid on the last day of racing there, on Sunday 13 September, on the city’s central boulevard, the Paseo de la Castellana.
As women’s cycling has become more high profile, for the first time a women’s World Tour, paralleling the equivalent top league for men, is strongly rumoured for 2016.
Substituting the current World Cup series and offering a total of 30 to 35 days racing means many of the current World Cup events would be incorporated, along with La Course, La Course by La Vuelta (the Spanish equivalent race), the Women’s Tour of Britain – another event which is going from strength to strength – the Tour of California, and the Giro Rosa.
As for La Course itself, the French race continues to carve its niche into the calendar. Once again it will boast one of the season’s best line-ups, in no small part thanks to its host organisers ASO who see a key opportunity for primetime TV coverage.
Its prize list, €6,000 (£4,250) to the winner and totalling €22,500 – is one of the highest of any in women’s cycling.
The 89km event is a near mirror image of the last stage of the men’s Tour, featuring in the case of La Course, 12 laps of the 7.5km circuit of the Champs Elysées this afternoon. That, on paper, makes a bunch sprint the most likely outcome.
Sprint classification at the end of each lap will likely spice up the event, as will a couple of cobbled sections on the circuit and the Champs Elysées’s slightly uphill finish.
In the absence of Olympic and world champion Marianne Vos, who won easily last year, the race is very open, particularly as 22 teams, five more than last year, will be taking part.
Lizzie Armitstead (left), British national champion and World Cup leader, is one stand-out name, but the extremely flat nature of the course may make it harder for her to claim victory.
Last year she crashed in the last kilometre, so even in such a short-lived event there is already a point to prove for the Commonwealth Games champion and Olympic medallist. Other top names include Kirsten Wild, second last year, multiple world champion Giorgia Bronzini, who took one of her rainbow jersey titles on a similarly flat circuit in Denmark in 2011, and Australian sprinter Chloe Hosking.
French hopes will be pinned on Pauline Ferrand Prevot, leading her Rabo Liv Women’s squad after Vos opted out – apparently because of fatigue. A local victory on the Champs Elysées would be the first for France since Jean Patrick Nazon in 2003 – in the men’s event.
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